I’ve been in Taiwan for a month now, and I’ve found that my language skills have greatly improved thanks to the immersive environment, great classes at the ICLP (International Chinese Language Program at National Taiwan University), and speaking with friends and flatmates. I’ve learned a lot of new useful vocabulary too, including:
热闹 rènào – This literally means hot and noisy. This word is used to describe popular, bustling places. I first learned this word in school but was reintroduced to it when my roommate was describing the neighborhood that we live in.
捷运 jié yùn – Taiwan’s metro system called the MRT. This is a word that I learned for the first time in Taiwan! It is very helpful when discussing transportation because you end up riding the MRT a ton.
计程车 jìchéngchē – Taxi. This is also a very important transportation word, taxis are very convenient and fairly inexpensive here.
密码 Mìmǎ – Password. This is useful for when you go to a café or restaurant and want to connect to the Wi-Fi network.
夜市 yèshì – Night market. These are one of the must do things in Taiwan! Very useful word for talking about your evening or weekend plans.
电视剧 diànshìjù – Television drama. Taiwan has a ton of great TV dramas. My personal favorite is Love Storm!
茶壶 cháhú – Tea pot. If you drink tea a lot like I do, you’ll be visiting tea shops quite a bit! Stores here sell both loose-leaf tea and tea bags, and usually the tea bags will be described in terms of how many pots of tea they can make. This is essential information if you’re trying to figure out what kind of deal you’re getting on tea!
环保 huánbǎo – Environmental protection/environmentally friendly. Taiwan is taking a lot of measures to become more environmentally friendly, so you’ll see a lot of stores sell reusable chopsticks, straws, and water bottles.
Maybe my tones aren’t right all the time, but being able to say these new things allows me to express more in Chinese and understand more daily interactions. If anything, learning new vocabulary helps improve listening skills because even if you forget how to say it, you can still recognize it when someone is speaking to you. In fact, I’ve noticed my listening skills improve the most since I’ve been here just because of the exposure to new terms and vocabulary on a regular basis.
An interesting aspect of learning Chinese in Taiwan is that you’re going to be learning slightly different Chinese than of that spoken in China. Taiwanese Mandarin uses different words for things that you may have learned differently in class. For example, since I’ve been here, I’ve had to switch my primary terms for the words week, taxi, metro, and goodbye to adjust to a more local way of speaking. I’ve also had to drop my “er” at the end of words like there, fun, and where. If you’ve been learning Chinese for a while but from a dialect from the mainland, don’t worry! It’s not difficult to pick up on the new vocabulary, and it is kind of cool to be able to switch between regional words for different things. If you are a beginner coming to Taiwan to learn, this is a great opportunity to learn how to speak like the Taiwanese!
One other thing that I’ve noticed is that the patience you will experience while learning Chinese is amazing! The teachers at the ICLP have an extreme capacity for patience and are genuinely invested in improving your Chinese. No matter your level, they create an environment that makes you feel comfortable with making mistakes. My flatmates have also been helpful in helping with language learning. They teach me words that are more colloquial that I probably won’t learn in class. Speaking with people outside of a classroom setting also takes you outside your comfort zone and stretches your ability to communicate and comprehend. When you’re speaking with a teacher, they have a pretty good idea of what you do and don’t know. Outside the classroom, people have no idea of what you do and don’t know, and your odds of miscommunication go way up. However, this really pushes you to be a better listener, and to fine tune your speaking so that you can communicate clearly. While the classroom is a safe space to practice, outside the classroom is where the most important application takes place.
Studying Chinese in Taiwan has definitely been what I’d hoped it would be so far. I regularly go outside my comfort zone, I have learned a lot of new words and sentence structures, and I already feel my Chinese is improving after just a month. With two and a half more months to go, I’m excited to see where I’ll be at the end of the program!